Proposed emergency talks between the White House and congressional leaders to avert a looming budget crisis fell through Saturday as plans moved ahead to shut down the government partially when its spending authority expires at midnight Monday.
President Clinton, responding to an invitation from House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., had directed Chief of Staff Leon E. Panetta to present “straightforward ideas” on how to avoid the shutdown at a proposed afternoon negotiating session.
But Republican leaders balked because of Clinton’s insistence that Democratic lawmakers also take part in the talks. House Budget Committee Chairman John R. Kasich, R-Ohio, said he wanted direct negotiations between the GOP lawmakers and Panetta, adding “we don’t need more people in the room.” Dole said Republicans did not need “chaperons” to talk with the White House.
Gingrich and Dole then tried calling Clinton to revive the proposed discussions, but Dole contended that Clinton “in effect” told them to “get lost.”
The rhetoric grew progressively sharper in what amounts to a high-stakes game of budgetary chicken. “We want to balance the budget,” Dole declared. “He wants to shut down the government.”
The president said in his Saturday radio address that he cannot accept the temporary funding measure, approved by the House on Friday and scheduled for final Senate action on Monday, because it would increase Medicare premiums for senior citizens and significantly reduce funding for education and environmental protection.
Clinton also attacked restrictions attached to a companion measure that would temporarily increase the nation’s debt ceiling, which would avert a possible federal default that could come as early as midweek. The restrictions, which would limit the Treasury secretary’s ability to juggle funds during a debt-limit crisis, amount to “a shortcut to default on the full faith and credit of the United States,” Clinton said.< The debt-limit measure has been approved by both houses of Congress and can be sent to the White House at any time.
But it had not yet been received by Saturday evening, “so there’s nothing here to veto,” White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry said.
But the president has promised to veto the measure once it arrives, adding yet another element of uncertainty and risk to the budget impasse.
Conceding that it appears “increasingly likely” the impasse will lead to a government shutdown, White House Budget Director Alice Rivlin said Saturday that plans were proceeding to furlough some 800,000 of the government’s 1.9 million civilian workers, beginning Tuesday.